He has elevated the art of playing second base a step beyond its traditional bounds, to a level most mortals--and most major leaguers--can only dream of approaching.
He plays in Pittsburgh, yet his grace, the sheer brilliance of his talents seems more suited for the stage rather than a stadium in a rough-and-tumble steel town.
His range is almost limitless, his throwing arm is a cannon, the speed with which he removes the ball from his glove can be captured only by a high-speed camera lens.
Twenty years ago, you were talking about Bill Mazeroski.
Today, you are talking about Jose Lind.
What Ozzie Smith did for shortstops--raise the level of play a notch or two beyond all previous limits--Jose Lind of the Pittsburgh Pirates is threatening to do for second basemen.
All second baseman, that is, except Mazeroski, who, 17 years after his retirement, is generally recognized as the best fielding infielder of all time, a player whose defensive genius still may land him in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Lind, 24, is proud to patrol the same plot of Pittsburgh’s North Side turf that Mazeroski once guarded so magnificently with one tiny, tattered piece of leather.
“I never saw him play, but I hear was the best second baseman in baseball,” Lind said. “I am looking to be the best.”
And Lind is improving, literally, by leaps and bounds. He recently underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove two bone chips from his right elbow, but he is expected to return--with little damage to his strong right arm--in time for the Pirates’ April 4 season opener.
Lind, whose range extends from near first base to the outfield grass behind second, not only has speed, computer-like reactions and unusual quickness, he has leaping ability that would impress any NBA player.
Blessed with a vertical jump comparable to Dominique Wilkins, Lind has won dozens of friendly wagers by leapfrogging teammates and friends standing at full height. He amazed former broadcaster Joe Garagiola by doing so on a “Game of the Week” pregame show last season.
“That’s just Chico,” said Pirates manager Jim Leyland.
Lind’s leaping ability has become a part of local sports legend so quickly that the Pirates will market a poster depicting him bounding over several downtown buildings. The caption, in sweeping Superman-style block letters, reads, “Chico, Pittsburgh’s Newest Skyscraper.”
“It’s going to make me famous,” Lind said, laughing.
Ozzie Smith may be the “Wizard of Oz,” but Lind is the “Wizard of Aahs.”
“A batter will hit a pitch and you’ll think, ‘There’s a hit, there’s no way he’ll get to that.’ Then you realize Chico’s back there,” said pitcher Jim Gott. “He makes the play look so routine, you wonder why you were worried.”
But while Lind’s defensive artistry has become the stuff of which legends are made in just 1 1-2 major-league seasons, Leyland points out Lind, from Dorado, Puerto Rico, is hardly a one-dimensional player.
Lind doesn’t have Mazeroski’s long-ball ability--he has only two homers in 754 major league at-bats--but, like Mazeroski, he is a solid hitter who batted .262 with 24 doubles and 49 RBI in 154 games last season.
And Lind thinks his career hardly has peaked. Mazeroski was known simply as “Maz;” Lind, at times, is simply “A-Maz-ing.”
“People may say you are the best, but you have to go out and play your best everyday, give 100 percent,” Lind said. “I want to play in the All-Star Game--that is a big goal--so I know I have to get better.”
Does Lind, one of a new breed of outstanding young second basemen who are reaching stardom at the same time, someday hoped to be compared with Smith?
“I don’t know, I don’t think so, because Ozzie is the kind of player who does a lot of things in the field that you say, ‘That is unbelievable,’ ” he said. “I just try to get better.”
But Lind acknowledges he has watched replays and wondered how he made a throw, how he got to a ball in short right field.
“Sometimes I get the ball far away, out in the outfield and I see myself and not know how I did it,” he said. “When I play the game, I concentrate real hard, try to take off as soon as the ball meets the bat, I work on it every day.”